|The Presentation -- mural inthe Abbey of St Walburga, CO|
Feb 2nd commemorates the presentation of Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem, a traditional observance of faithful Jews on the birth of a first son. It has special resonance in this case, of course, since it prefigures the Eucharist in which day by day we have the opportunity to give God back the gift he gives us. So Mary and Joseph return to God that which uniquely came from God.
Commonly called Candlemas, the feast of the Presentation has several meanings. The readings are the same each year, and identify Jesus with ‘the Lord whom you seek’ whose unexpected appearance ‘in the temple’ is predicted by the prophet Malachi. The appointed Psalm, appropriately, extols the beauty and wonder of God’s ‘dwelling place’ and the joy of being there. The association with candles comes from the fact that a central part of the Biblical episode recorded in the Gospel for the day is the aged Simeon's 'Nunc Dimittis' with its description of the baby Jesus as 'a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of God's people Israel'.
Candlemas comes forty days after the nativity, and has long been regarded as the very last feast of the Christmas season. This is not just because it records a Jewish birth rite, but because Simeon's words summarize so memorably the truth of the Incarnation. In the ceremony for Candlemas, candles for use in both church and home are blessed with a prayer:
|Presentation of Christ -- Andrea Mantegna (1453)|
God our Father,
Source of all light,
this day you revealed to Simeon the light of your revelation to the nations.
Bless these candles and make them holy.
May we who carry them praise your glory, walk in the path of goodness and come to the light that shines forever
Grant this through Christ our Lord.